You are on page 1of 23


Natural Gas and the Environment

Currently, natural gas represents 24 percent of the energy consumed in the United States. The Energy Information
Administration (EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 1999 projects that this figure will increase to about 28 percent by 2020
under the reference case as consumption of natural gas is projected to increase to 32.3 trillion cubic feet. In
addition, a recent EIA Service Report, Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S. Energy Markets and Economic
Activity , indicates that the use of natural gas could be even 6 to 10 percent higher in 2020 if the United States
adopts the Kyoto Protocols requirement to reduce carbon emissions by 7 percent from their 1990 levels by the
20082012 time period, without other changes in laws, regulations, and policies. These increases are expected
because emissions of greenhouse gases are much lower with the consumption of natural gas relative to other fossil
fuel consumption. For instance:

Natural gas, when burned, emits lower quantities of greenhouse gases and criteria pollutants per unit of energy
produced than do other fossil fuels. This occurs in part because natural gas is more easily fully combusted,
and in part because natural gas contains fewer impurities than any other fossil fuel. For example, U.S. coal
contains 1.6 percent sulfur (a consumption-weighted national average) by weight. The oil burned at electric
utility power plants ranges from 0.5 to 1.4 percent sulfur. Diesel fuel has less than 0.05 percent, while the
current national average for motor gasoline is 0.034 percent sulfur. Comparatively, natural gas at the burner
tip has less than 0.0005 percent sulfur compounds.

The amount of carbon dioxide produced for an equivalent amount of heat production varies substantially
among the fossil fuels, with natural gas producing the least. On a carbon-equivalent basis, energy-related
carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 83.8 percent of U.S. anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in
1997. For the major fossil fuels, the amounts of carbon dioxide produced for each billion Btu of heat energy
extracted are: 208,000 pounds for coal, 164,000 pounds for petroleum products, and 117,000 pounds for
natural gas.

Other aspects of the development and use of natural gas need to be considered as well in looking at the
environmental consequences related to natural gas. For example:

The major constituent of natural gas, methane, also directly contributes to the greenhouse effect through
venting or leaking of natural gas into the atmosphere. This is because methane is 21 times as effective in
trapping heat as is carbon dioxide. Although methane emissions amount to only 0.5 percent of U.S. emissions
of carbon dioxide, they account for about 10 percent of the greenhouse effect of U.S. emissions.

A major transportation-related environmental advantage of natural gas is that it is not a source of toxic spills.
But, because there are about 300,000 miles of high-pressure transmission pipelines in the United States and
its offshore areas, there are corollary impacts. For instance, the construction right-of-way on land commonly
requires a width of 75 to 100 feet along the length of the pipeline; this is the area disturbed by trenching, soil
storage, pipe storage, vehicle movement, etc. This area represents between 9.1 and 12.1 acres per mile of
pipe which is, or has been, subject to intrusion.

Natural gas is seen by many as an important fuel in initiatives to address environmental concerns. Although natural
gas is the most benign of the fossil fuels in terms of air pollution, it is less so than nonfossil-based energy sources
such as renewables or nuclear power. However, because of its lower costs, greater resources, and existing
infrastructure, natural gas is projected to increase its share of energy consumption relative to all other fuels, fossil
and nonfossil, under current laws and regulations.

The vast majority of U.S. energy use comes from the

combustion of fossil hydrocarbon fuels. This unavoidably
results in a degree of air, land, and water pollution, and the
production of greenhouse gases that might contribute to

global warming and certain public health risks. To address

these health and environmental concerns, the United States
has many laws and regulations in place that are designed to
control and/or reduce pollution. In the United States,

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


natural gas use is projected to increase nearly 50 percent by

2020.1 This is because North American natural gas
resources are considered both plentiful and secure, are
expected to be competitively priced, and their increased use
can be effective in reducing the emission of pollutants.
While the use of natural gas does have environmental
consequences, it is attractive because it is relatively cleanburning. This chapter discusses many environmental
aspects related to the use of natural gas, including the
environmental impact of natural gas relative to other fossil
fuels and some of the potential applications for increased
use of natural gas. On the other hand, the venting or leaking
of natural gas into the atmosphere can have a significant
effect with respect to greenhouse gases because methane,
the principal component of natural gas, is much more
effective in trapping these gases than carbon dioxide. The
exploration, production, and transmission of natural gas, as
well, can have adverse effects on the environment. This
chapter addresses the level and extent of some of these
impacts on the environment.

Air Pollutants and Greenhouse

The Earths atmosphere is a mixture primarily of the gases
nitrogen and oxygen, totaling 99 percent; nearly 1 percent
water; and very small amounts of other gases and
substances, some of which are chemically reactive. With
the exception of oxygen, nitrogen, water, and the inert
gases, all constituents of air may be a source of concern
owing either to their potential health effects on humans,
animals, and plants, or to their influence on the climate.
As mandated by The Clean Air Act (CAA), which was last
amended in 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) regulates criteria pollutants that are considered
harmful to the environment and public health:

Gases. The gaseous criteria pollutants are carbon

monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic
compounds,2 and sulfur dioxide (Figure 20). These are
reactive gases that in the presence of sunlight
contribute to the formation of ground level ozone,
smog, and acid rain.

Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 1999,
DOE/EIA-0383(99) (Washington, DC, December 1998).
Note that methane, the principal ingredient in natural gas, is not classed
as a volatile organic compound because it is not as chemically reactive as the
other hydrocarbons, although it is a greenhouse gas.


Particulates. The nongaseous criteria pollutant

particulate matter consists of metals and substances
such as pollen, dust, yeast, mold, very tiny organisms
such as mites and aerosolized liquids, and larger
particles such as soot from wood fires or diesel fuel

Air Toxics. The CAA identifies 188 substances as air

toxics or hazardous air pollutants, with lead being the
only one that is currently classified as a criteria
pollutant and thus regulated. Air toxic pollutants are
more acute biological hazards than most particulate or
criteria pollutants but are much smaller in volume.
Procedures are now underway to regulate other air
toxics under the CAA.

The greenhouse gases are water vapor, carbon dioxide,

methane, nitrous oxide, and a host of engineered chemicals,
such as chlorofluorocarbons (Figure 21). These gases
regulate the Earths temperature. When the natural balance
of the atmosphere is disturbed, particularly by an increase
or decrease in the greenhouse gases, the Earths climate
could be affected.
The combustion of fossil fuels produces 84 percent of U.S.
anthropogenic (created by humans) greenhouse emissions.3
When wood burning is included, these fuels produce
95 percent of the nitrogen oxides, 94 percent of the carbon
monoxide, and 93 percent of the sulfur dioxide criteria
pollutants (Figure 20). Most of these emissions are released
into the atmosphere as a result of fossil fuel use in
industrial boilers and power plants and in motor vehicles.

Emissions from Burning Natural Gas

Natural gas is less chemically complex than other fuels, has
fewer impurities, and its combustion accordingly results in
less pollution. Natural gas consists primarily of methane
(see box, p. 52). In the simplest case, complete combustive
reaction of a molecule of pure methane (which comprises
one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms) with two
molecules of pure oxygen produces a molecule of carbon
dioxide gas, two molecules of water in vapor form, and
heat.4 In practice, however, the combustion process is never

Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in
the United States 1997, DOE/EIA-0573(97) (Washington, DC, October
As described by CH 4 + 2 O 2 9 CO2 + 2 H2O + heat.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Figure 20. U.S. Criteria Pollutants and Their Major Sources, 1996
Po llu ta n ts
S o u rc e s o f
N itro g e n O x id e s
O il
(E n g in e s a n d
Ve h ic le s ) 58 %

(M illio n To n s )

C a rb o n M o n ox id e
(C O )
8 8 .8

S o u rc e s o f
C a rb o n M o n ox id e

O il
(E n g in e s a n d
Ve h ic le s ) - 8 1 %

C o a l - 2 7%
G a s - 10 %
O th e r - 5 %

S o u rc e s o f
Vo la tile O rg a n ic
C om pounds

O il - 5 0 %

S o lve n ts - 3 3 %

W o od - 13 %
O th e r - 6 %
Pa r ticu la te M a tte r *
(P M 1 0 )
3 1 .3
N itr o g e n O x id e s
(N O X )
2 3 .4
S u lfu r D iox id e
(S O 2 )
1 9 .1
Vo la tile O rg a n ic
C o m p o u n d s (VO C )
1 9 .1
L e a d ** - 3 .9

S o u rc e s o f
S u lfu r D iox id e

C o a l - 7 4%

O il - 1 6 %
G as - 3 %
O th e r - 7 %

O th e r - 9 %
W o od - 8%

*Wood and other fuels account for only 9 percent of particulate matter.
**Oil accounts for 25 percent of lead and other fuels 2 percent.
Source: Energy Information Administration, Office of Oil and Gas, derived from: Environmental Protection Agency, National Air Pollutant
Emission Trends 1990-1996, Appendix A (December 1997).

Figure 21. U.S. Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gases and Their Sources, 1997
G re e n h o u s e
G ases
( W e ig h te d b y
G re e n h o u s e
P o te n t ia l)

S o u rc e s o f
C a r b o n D io x id e
S o u rc e s o f
M e th a n e

C a r b o n D io x id e
(C O 2 )

O il - 4 2 %

8 3 .8 %
L a n d fill - 3 5 %
C o a l -3 5 %
A n im a ls - 2 8 %
G as - 22%
N a tu ra l G a s
P r o d u c tio n a n d
D i s tr ib u tio n - 2 1 %
C o a l M in in g - 1 1 %
O th e r - 5 %
2 9 .1 M illio n
M e t r i c To n s
To t a l

O th e r - 1 %
M e th a n e
(C H 4 )
9 .3 %
N 2O - 4 .8 %
C F C - 2 .1 %

5 ,4 2 2 M illio n
M e t r i c To n s
To t a l

N2O = Nitrous oxide. CFC = Chlorofluorocarbon.

Source: Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1997 (October 1998).

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Sources and Chemical Composition of Natural Gas

Natural gas is obtained principally from conventional crude oil and nonassociated gas reservoirs, and secondarily
from coal beds, tight sandstones, and Devonian shales. Some is also produced from minor sources such as landfills.
In the future, it may also be obtained from natural gas hydrate deposits located beneath the sea floor in deep water
on the continental shelves or associated with thick subsurface permafrost zones in the Arctic.
Natural gas is a mixture of low molecular-weight aliphatic (straight chain) hydrocarbon compounds that are gases
at surface pressure and temperature conditions. At the pressure and temperature conditions of the source reservoir,
it may occur as free gas (bubbles) or be dissolved in either crude oil or brine. While the primary constituent of natural
gas is methane (CH4), it may contain smaller amounts of other hydrocarbons, such as ethane (C2H6) and various
isomers of propane (C3H8), butane (C4 H10 ), and the pentanes 5(C12H ), as well as trace amounts of heavier
hydrocarbons. Nonhydrocarbon gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), helium (He), hydrogen sulfide (H2S), nitrogen
(N2), and water vapor (H2O), may also be present in any proportion to the total hydrocarbon content.
Pipeline-quality natural gas contains at least 80 percent methane and has a minimum heat content of 870 Btu per
standard cubic foot. Most pipeline natural gas significantly exceeds both minimum specifications. Since natural gas
has by far the lowest energy density of the common hydrocarbon fuels, by volume (not weight) much more of it must
be used to provide a given amount of energy. Natural gas is also much less physically dense, weighing about half
as much (55 percent) as the same volume of dry air at the same pressure. It is consequently buoyant in air, in which
it is also combustible at concentrations ranging from 5 percent to 15 percent by volume.

that perfect as it takes place in air rather than in pure

oxygen, resulting in some pollutants. 5
The reaction products include particulate carbon, carbon
monoxide, and nitrogen oxides, in addition to carbon
dioxide, water vapor, and heat. Carbon monoxide, the
nitrogen oxides, and particulate carbon are criteria
pollutants (regulated emissions). The proportions of the
reaction products are determined by the efficiency of
combustion. For instance, when the air supply to a gas
burner is not adequate, the produced levels of carbon
monoxide and other pollutants are greater. This situation is,
of course, similar to that of all other fossil hydrocarbon
fuelsinsufficient oxygen supply to the burner will
inevitably result in incomplete combustion and the
consequent production of carbon monoxide and other

gas. For example, all fossil fuels contain sulfur; its removal
from both oil and gas is a major part of the processing of
these fuels prior to distribution. However, not all sulfur is
removed during processing. When the fuel is burned,
several oxides of sulfur are produced, consisting primarily
of sulfur dioxide, some other sulfur-bearing acids, and
traces of many other sulfur compounds depending on what
other trace compounds are present in the fuel. Additionally,
since natural gas is both colorless and odorless, sulfurbearing odorants6 are intentionally added to the gas stream
by gas distributors so that residential consumers can smell
a leak. Besides sulfur, natural gas can include other trace
impurities and contaminants.7

Since natural gas is never pure methane and air is not just
oxygen and nitrogen, small amounts of additional
pollutants are also generated during combustion of natural

Yet the emittable pollutants resulting from combustion of

natural gas are far fewer in volume and number than those
from the combustion of any other fossil fuel (Figure 22).
This occurs in part because natural gas is more easily fully
combusted, and in part because natural gas has fewer
impurities than other hydrocarbon fuels. For example, the
amount of sulfur in natural gas is much less than that of

Since the process takes place in air rather than pure oxygen, the practical
result is more like: CH4 + O2 + N2 9 C + CO + CO2 + N2O + NO + NO2 +
H2O + CH4 (unburned) + heat (exact proportions depend on the prevailing
combustion conditions).

These odorants are compounds such as dimethyl sulfide, tertiary butyl
mercaptan, tetrahydrothiophene, and methyl mercaptan.
Trace impurities can include radon, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene,
xylene, and organometallic compounds such as methyl mercury. The list of
combustion byproducts can include fine particulate matter, polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds including


Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Figure 22. Air Pollutant Emissions by Fuel Type


Pounds per Billion Btu
of Energy Consumed



Pounds per Billion Btu

of Energy Consumed

Pounds per Billion Btu

of Energy Consumed











NO x

SO 2


Natural Gas





CO 2
CO2 = Carbon dioxide. Nox = Nitrogen oxides. SO2 = Sulfur dioxide. CO = Carbon monoxide. HC = Hydrocarbon.
Note: Graphs should not be directly compared because vertical scales differ.
Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA) Office of Oil and Gas. Carbon Monoxide: derived from EIA, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases
in the United States 1997, Table B1, p. 106. Other Pollutants: derived from Environmental Protection Agency, Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission
Factors, Vol. 1 (1998). Based on conversion factors derived from EIA, Cost and Quality of Fuels for Electric Utility Plants (1996).

coal or oil. U.S. coals contain an average of 1.6 percent

sulfur by weight,8 and the oil burned at electric utility
power plants ranges from 0.5 percent to 1.4 percent sulfur.9
Diesel fuel has less than 0.05 percent sulfur by weight (or
500 parts per million (ppm)) and the current national
average for motor gasoline is 340 ppm sulfur (includes
California where the regulated statewide average is
30 ppm).10 Comparatively, natural gas at the burner tip has
less than 5 ppm of all sulfur compounds, typically

comprising about 1 ppm hydrogen sulfide and less than

2 ppm of each sulfur-bearing odorant.11

Toxic and Particulate Emissions

The combustion of natural gas also produces significantly
lower quantities of other undesirable compounds,


U.S. coals burned at Clean Air Act Phase I electric power plants contain
an average of 0.3 percent sulfur for western coals and 2.5 percent for eastern
coals, yielding a consumption-weighted national average of 1.6 percent sulfur
by weight.
Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual, 1996,
Vol. 2, DOE/EIA-348(96) (Washington, DC, 1997), p. 41.
Gerald Karey, EPA leaves sulfur verdict for another day, Platts
Oilgram News, 76/78 (April 24, 1998), p. 4.

Washington Gas Light Company personnel stated that its system

hydrogen sulfide (H2 S) levels are 1.8 parts per million (ppm) and the sulfurbearing odorants are 2.0 ppm. Institute for Gas Technology tests of trace
constituents in two intrastate pipeline samples and two Canadian interstate
samples supplied by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company had less than
5 ppm total H2S (usually between 1 and 1.5 ppm). Sulfur content by contract
for pipeline-quality natural gas varies from 0.25 grains to 1.0 grain per
100 standard cubic feet (1.9 ppm to 7.6 ppm), in many cases 0.25 grains or
1.9 ppm. Dr. John M. Campbell, Chapter 7, Product Specifications, Gas
Conditioning and Processing, Vol. 1 (Norman, OK, 1979).

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


particularly toxics, than those produced from combustion

of petroleum products or coal. Toxic air pollutants are those
compounds that are not specifically covered under other
portions of the CAA (i.e., the criteria pollutants and
particulate matter) and are typically carcinogens,
reproductive toxics, and mutagens. The United States emits
2.7 billion pounds of toxics into the atmosphere each year.
Motor vehicles are the primary source, followed by
residential wood combustion. Section 112 of the CAA of
1990 lists 188 toxic compounds or groups as hazardous air
pollutants (HAPs), including various compounds of
mercury, arsenic, lead, nickel, and beryllium and also
organic compounds, such as toluene, benzene,
formaldehyde, chloroform, and phosgene, which are
expected to be regulated soon. Presently, only lead is
The toxic compound benzene can be a component of both
petroleum products and natural gas, but whereas it can
comprise up to 1.5 percent by weight of motor gasoline, the
levels in natural gas are considered insignificant and are not
generally monitored by gas-processing plants and most
pipeline companies.12 As required by California Proposition
65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act,
gas pipeline companies that operate in California
continuously monitor for toxic substances. These
companies have found that the benzene and toluene content
of the natural gas they carry varies by source and can range
from less than 0.4 ppm to 6 ppm for interstate gas and up to
100 ppm for intrastate gas.13 Depending on the efficiency of
the combustion, some will be oxidized to carbon dioxide
and water, some will pass through unburned, and some will
be converted to other toxic compounds.
The particulates produced by natural gas combustion are
usually less than 1 micrometer (micron) in diameter and are
composed of low molecular-weight hydrocarbons that are
not fully combusted.14 Typically, combustion of the other
fossil fuels produces greater volumes of larger and more
complex particulates. In 1998, the Environmental
Protection Agency set a new standard for very fine (less
than 2.5 microns) particulates as an add-on to the existing
regulation of suspended particulates that are 10 microns or


Based on communications with personnel at the Gas Processors

Association and the Columbia Gas Pipeline Company.
Institute for Gas Technology test of trace constituents in two intrastate
pipeline samples and two Canadian interstate samples supplied by the Pacific
Gas and Electric Company.
The aerosolized particulate matter resulting from combustion of fossil
fuels is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets inclusive of soot,
smoke, dust, ash, and condensing vapors.


larger, set in 1987.15 Although power plants and dieselpowered trucks and buses are major emitters of particulate
matter, the bulk of 10-micron-plus particulate matter
emissions is composed of fugitive dust from roadways
(58 percent) and combined sources of agricultural
operations and wind erosion (30 percent).16

Acid Rain and Smog Formation

Natural gas is not a significant contributor to acid rain
formation. Acid rain is formed when sulfur dioxide and the
nitrogen oxides chemically react with water vapor and
oxidants in the presence of sunlight to produce various
acidic compounds, such as sulfuric acid and nitric acid.
Electric utility plants generate about 70 percent of SO2
emissions and 30 percent of NOx emissions in the United
States; motor vehicles are the second largest source of both.
Natural gas is responsible for only 3 percent of sulfur
dioxide and 10 percent of nitrogen oxides (Figure 20).
Precipitation in the form of rain, snow, ice, and fog causes
about half of these atmospheric acids to fall to the ground
as acid rain, while about half fall as dry particles and
gases. Winds can blow the particles and compounds
hundreds of miles from their source before they are
deposited, and they and their sulfate and nitrate derivatives
contribute to atmospheric haze prior to eventual deposition
as acid rain. The dry particles that land on surfaces are also
washed off by rain, increasing the acidity of runoff.
Natural gas use also is not much of a factor in smog
formation. As opposed to petroleum products and coal, the
combustion of natural gas results in relatively small
production of smog-forming pollutants. The primary
constituent of smog is ground-level ozone created by
photochemical reactions in the near-surface atmosphere
involving a combination of pollutants from many sources,
including motor vehicle exhausts, volatile organic
compounds such as paints and solvents, and smokestack
emissions. The smog-forming pollutants literally cook in
the air as they mix together and are acted on by heat and
sunlight. The wind can blow smog-forming pollutants away
The larger particles are usually trapped in the upper respiratory tract,
whereas those smaller than 10 microns can penetrate further into the
respiratory system. The most infamous cases of extreme particulate matter
pollution, in Donora, Pennsylvania, and in London, England, during the
1930s-1950s, killed thousands of people, and recent studies have indicated
that a relatively small rise in 2.5-micron particulates causes a 5-percent rise
in infant mortality and greater risk of heart disease. Michael Day, Taken to
Heart, New Scientist (May 9, 1998), p. 23.
Environmental Protection Agency, National Air Pollution Trends
Update, 1970-1997, EPA-454/E-98-007 (December 1998), Table A-5
Particulate Matter (PM-10) Emissions.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

from their sources while the reaction takes place, explaining

why smog can be more severe miles away from the source
of pollutants than at the source itself.

Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

The Earths surface temperature is maintained at a habitable
level through the action of certain atmospheric gases known
as greenhouse gases that help trap the Suns heat close to
the Earths surface. The main greenhouse gases are water
vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and several
engineered chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons. Most
greenhouse gases occur naturally, but concentrations of
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the Earths
atmosphere have been increasing since the Industrial
Revolution with the increased combustion of fossil fuels
and increased agricultural operations. Of late there has been
concern that if this increase continues unabated, the
ultimate result could be that more heat would be trapped,
adversely affecting Earths climate. Consequently,
governments worldwide are attempting to find some
mechanisms for reducing emissions or increasing
absorption of greenhouse gases.17
On a carbon-equivalent basis, 99 percent of
anthropogenically-sourced carbon dioxide emissions in the
United States is due to the burning of fossil hydrocarbon
fuels, with 22 percent of this attributed to natural gas (Table
1). Carbon dioxide emissions accounted for 83.8 percent of
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 1997. Between 1996 and
1997, total estimated U.S. carbon dioxide emissions
increased by 1.5 percent (22.0 million metric tons) to about
1,501 million metric tons of carbon, representing an
increase of about 145 million metric tons, or almost 10.7
percent over the 1990 emission level. The increase between
1996 and 1997 was the sixth consecutive one. Increasing
reliance on coal for electricity generation is one of the
driving forces behind the growth in carbon emissions in
1996 and 1997.
The major constituent of natural gas, methane, also directly
contributes to the greenhouse effect. Its ability to trap heat
in the atmosphere is estimated to be 21 times greater than

In December 1997, representatives from more than 160 countries met
in Kyoto, Japan, to establish limits on greenhouse gas emissions for
participating developed nations. The resulting Kyoto Protocol established
annual emission targets for countries relative to their 1990 emission levels.
The target for the United States is 7 percent below 1990 levels.

that of carbon dioxide, so although methane emissions

amount to only 0.5 percent of U.S. emissions of carbon
dioxide, they account for about 10 percent of the
greenhouse effect of U.S. emissions. In 1997, methane
emissions from waste management operations (primarily
landfills), at 10.4 million metric tons, and from agricultural
operations, at 8.6 million metric tons, substantially
exceeded those from the oil and gas industries combined,
estimated to be 6.2 million metric tons.18
Water vapor is the most common greenhouse gas, at about
1 percent of the atmosphere by weight, followed by carbon
dioxide at 0.04 percent and then methane, nitrous oxide,
and manmade compounds such as the chlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs). Each gas has a different residence time in the
atmosphere, from about a decade for carbon dioxide to
120 years for nitrous oxide and up to 50,000 years for some
of the CFCs. Water vapor is omnipresent and continually
cycles into and out of the atmosphere. In estimating the
effect of these greenhouse gases on climate, both the global
warming potential (heat-trapping effectiveness relative to
carbon dioxide) and the quantity of gas must be considered
for each of the greenhouse gases.
Since human activity has minimal impact on the
atmospheres water vapor content, unlike the other
greenhouse gases it is not addressed in the context of global
warming prevention. The criteria pollutants specified in the
CAA are reactive gases that, although they decay quickly,
nevertheless promote reactions in the atmosphere yielding
the greenhouse gas ozone. These gases indirectly affect
global climate because they produce undesirable lower
atmosphere ozone, as opposed to the desirable high-altitude
ozone that shields Earth from most of the Suns ultraviolet
radiation. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, directly
contributes to the greenhouse effect; it presently represents
61 percent of the worldwide global warming potential of
the atmospheres greenhouse gases.
The United States is the largest producer of carbon dioxide
among the countries of the world, both per capita (5.4 tons
in 1996) and absolutely (Figure 23).19 The amount of
carbon dioxide produced for an equivalent amount of heat
production substantially varies among the fossil fuels, with
Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in
the United States 1997, DOE/EIA-0573(97) (Washington, DC, October
1998), pp. 27 and 29.
U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, G.
Marland and T. Broden, Ranking of the Worlds Countries by 1995 Total
CO 2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Burning, Cement Production, and Gas

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Table 1. U.S. Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Energy and Industry, 1990-1997
(Million Metric Tons of Carbon)
Fuel Type or Process


Natural Gas
Consumption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Gas Flaring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
CO2 in Natural Gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Energy
Petroleum . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Coal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Geothermal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Sources
Cement Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Other Industrial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Adjustments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Total from Energy and Industry . . . . . . . . . . . .
Percent Natural Gas of Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .











1,073.0 1,052.7 1,065.8 1,083.3 1,096.9 1,097.6 1,141.5 1,160.5








1,355.9 1,340.8 1,360.6 1,393.6 1,413.8 1,428.1 1,478.8 1,500.8









Accounts for different methodologies in calculating emissions for U.S. territories.

*Less than 0.05 million metric tons.
P = Preliminary data.
Notes: Emission coefficients are annualized for coal, motor gasoline, liquefied petroleum gases, jet fuel, and crude oil. Includes emissions from
bunker fuels. Totals may not equal sum of components because of independent rounding.
Source: Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1997 (October 1998).

Figure 23. Carbon Dioxide Emission Share by Country, 1995

United States
Russian Federation

United Kingdom


Rest of World

Total 1995 emissions = 6,173 million metric tons of carbon

Note: Sum of percentages does not equal 100 because of independent rounding.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, G. Marland, T. Broden, Ranking of the Worlds Countries by 1995 Total
CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuel Burning, Cement Production, and Gas Flaring, <>.


Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

natural gas producing the least. For the major fossil fuels,
the amounts of carbon dioxide produced for each billion
Btu of heat energy extracted are: 208,000 pounds for coal,
164,000 pounds for petroleum products, and 117,000
pounds for natural gas (Table 2).

Effect of Greater Use of

Natural Gas
Electric Power Generation
Projections of increased use of natural gas center
principally on the increased use of natural gas in electric
generation. For example, the Annual Energy Outlook 1999
reference case projects natural gas consumption to rise by
10.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) from 1997 to 2020. Of this
increase, 56 percent (5.8 Tcf) is expected to come as a
result of increased use of natural gas for electricity
generation. A recent Energy Information Administration
(EIA) Service Report (prepared at the request of the House
of Representatives Science Committee assuming no
changes in domestic policy) analyzed the consequences of
U.S. implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. In the carbon
reduction cases cited in this report, Impacts of the Kyoto
Protocol on U.S. Energy Markets and Economic Activity,20
power plant use of natural gas (excluding industrial
cogeneration) could increase to between 8 and 12 Tcf in
2010 and 12 to 15 Tcf in 2020. This growth is expected to
develop as many of the new generating units brought on
line are gas-fired. Some repowering of existing units may
be undertaken as well.
Since electricity generation is the major source of U.S.
sulfur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,21
as well as a major source of all other air pollutants
excepting the chlorinated fluorocarbons, substitution of
natural gas for other fossil fuels by utilities and nonutility
Energy Information Administration, Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on
U.S. Energy Markets and Economic Activity, SR/OIAF/98-03 (Washington,
DC, October 1998), p. 76. This Service Report was requested by the U.S.
House of Representatives Science Committee to provide information on the
costs of the Kyoto Protocol without other changes in laws and regulations.
The report relied on assumptions provided by the Committee.
In 1996, electric utilities accounted for 12,604 thousand short tons of
sulfur dioxide emissions out of a total of 19,113 thousand short tons
(Environmental Protection Agency, National Air Pollutant Emission Trends,
1990-1996, EPA-454R-97-011 (December 1997), Table 2-1, p. 2-4); and for
532.4 million metric tons of carbon as carbon dioxide, exceeding the
482.9 and 473.1 million metric tons from the industrial and transportation
sectors, respectively (Energy Information Administration, Emissions of
Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1997, DOE/EIA-0573(97) (October
1998), Table 7, p. 21).

generators would have a sizable impact on emission levels.

However, if increased natural gas generation were to
replace nuclear power or delay the commercialization of
renewable-powered generation, this would represent a
negative impact on emission levels.
In 1997, there were 10,454 electric utility generating units
in the United States, with a total net summer generation
capacity of 712 gigawatts.22 Of that capacity, 19 percent
listed natural gas as the primary fuel and 27 percent listed
it as either the primary or secondary fuel. But natural gas
was actually used to generate only 9.1 percent of the
electricity generated by electric utilities in 1997, down
1.2 percent from the 1995 value of 10.3 percent and one of
the lowest proportions in the past 10 years. Coal was listed
as the primary fuel source for almost 43 percent of the
utility generating capacity and as a secondary source for
only about 0.5 percent. But in 1997, it was the fuel used for
57.3 percent of net generation from electric utilities, up
from 55.3 percent in 1995 and 56.3 percent in 1996.
A utility typically has a base-load generating capacity that
is essentially continuously on line and capable of satisfying
most or all of the minimum service-area load. The base-load
capacity is supplemented by intermediate-load generation
and peak-load generation capacities, which are used to meet
the seasonal and short-term fluctuating demands above base
load; reserve or standby units are also maintained to handle
outages or emergencies. The majority of non-nuclear baseload units are coal-fired, yet many utilities have gas
turbines, which are primarily used as peak-load generators.
Once the initial cost of a generating unit is paid for, fuel
cost per unit of energy produced controls how electricity is
generated. In 1997, the cost at steam-electric utility plants
per million Btu for coal was less than half that for natural
gas, $1.27 versus $2.76, and petroleum was even higher at
$2.88. 23 The per Btu natural gas cost to utilities increased
by over one-third from 1995 to 1997, while the per Btu coal
cost continued a 15-year decline, contributing to the
decreased market share for natural gas. However, new
technologies creating higher efficiency natural gas electric

Excludes nonutility generators. Energy Information Administration,
Inventory of Power Plants in the United States as of January 1, 1998,
DOE/EIA-0095(98) (Washington, DC, December 1998). Nonutility
generators totaled 78 gigawatts of capacity in 1997, with 42 percent utilizing
natural gas. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual 1997,
Vol. II, DOE/EIA-348(97) (Washington, DC, July 1998), Table 54.
Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual 1997,
Vol. 1, DOE/EIA-348(97) (Washington DC, July 1998), Table 20, p. 37.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Table 2. Pounds of Air Pollutants Produced per Billion Btu of Energy

Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Monoxide

Natural Gas






Nitrogen Oxides




Sulfur Dioxide
















Notes: No post combustion removal of pollutants. Bituminous coal burned in a spreader stoker is compared with No. 6 fuel oil burned in an oil-fired
utility boiler and natural gas burned in uncontrolled residential gas burners. Conversion factors are: bituminous coal at 12,027 Btu per pound and 1.64
percent sulfur content; and No. 6 fuel oil at 6.287 million Btu per barrel and 1.03 percent sulfur contentderived from Energy Information
Administration, Cost and Quality of Fuels for Electric Utility Plants (1996).
Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA), Office of Oil and Gas. Carbon Monoxide: derived from EIA, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases
in the United States 1997, Table B1, p. 106. Other Pollutants: derived from Environmental Protection Agency, Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission
Factors, Vol. 1 (1998).

generators can overcome the current price differential

between the fuels.
The new power plants scheduled to come on line during the
10 years from 1998 through 2007 are 88 percent naturalgas-fired and only 5 percent coal-fired, but they will add
only about 6 percent to total net generation capacity.24
Thus, in order to make significant reductions in the volume
of greenhouse gases and other pollutants produced by
electricity generation, a significant amount of new
unplanned gas-fired or renewable generation capacity
would have to be built, or the existing generating
equipment having natural gas as a fuel option would have
to be utilized more and many of the existing coal plants
would have to be repowered to burn gas.
The utilities have many supply-side options at their
disposal to reduce or offset carbon dioxide emissions from
power generation. These options include repowering of
coal-based plants with natural gas, building new gas plants,
extension of the life of existing nuclear plants,
implementation of renewable electricity technologies, and
improvement of the efficiency of existing generation,
transmission, and distribution systems.
There are two principal conversion opportunities for utility
power plants. The simplest and most capital-intensive
approach is site repowering with an entirely new gasturbine-based natural gas combined-cycle (NGCC) system.
The more complex, less capital-intensive approach is steam

Energy Information Administration, Inventory of Power Plants in the

United States as of January 1, 1998, DOE/EIA-0095(98) (Washington, DC,
December 1998), pp. 9 and 13.


turbine repowering where a new gas turbine and a heat

recovery steam generator are integrated with the existing
steam turbine and auxiliary equipment. This option can
have lower capital costs if site redesign costs are low, but
entails a higher operating cost because it is less efficient
than total state-of-the-art repowering.
As of January 1, 1998, there are 20 repowering projects
planned in nine States that will primarily convert current
oil-fired facilities to natural gas or co-firing capability; most
of the projects are driven by economics with a secondary
impetus as a response to the emission reduction
requirements of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990
(see box, p. 59).
Complete conversion may not be a practical goal for a
number of plants without expansion of the transportation
pipeline network. Most of the candidate plants are located
in primary gas-consuming regions served by major trunk
lines. It appears that converted plants may have sufficient
access to firm transportation capacity on these systems
during the heating and nonheating seasons, during which
between 16 and 24 percent of average national system
capability is available for firm transportation, respectively.25
The ability of a plant to use firm transportation capacity for
gas supply will depend on the location and specific load
characteristics of the pipelines serving that plant. However,
because of recent regulatory reforms, electric generation
plants may no longer be required
to use firm
transportation to serve their supply needs. Under Federal

Energy Information Administration, Deliverability on the Interstate

Natural Gas Pipeline System, DOE/EIA-0618(98) (Washington, DC, May
1998), Table 14.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990: Emission Reduction Requirements for Utilities
The 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act (CAA) require that electric utilities reduce their sulfur dioxide (SO2)
emissions by 10 million tons from the 1980 levels to attain an absolute cap of 8.9 million tons of SO2 by 2000.
Comparatively, SO2 emissions from fossil-fueled electric generating units ranged from 15.0 million tons in 1993 to
11.6 million tons in 1995, with 12.2 million tons emitted in 1996. The same units also emitted 2,047.4 million tons
of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 1996, up from 1,967.7 million tons in 1995. Nonutility power producers added another
1.2 million tons of SO2 and 556 million tons of CO2 in 1995, the latest year for which data are available. Phase 1 of
the CAA, 1995 through 1999, requires the largest polluters (110 named power plants) to reduce emissions beginning
in 1995. The top 50 polluting plants produced 5,381 million tons of SO2 emissions in 1996, 44 percent of the electric
generation total. The second phase, effective January 1, 2000, will require approximately 2,000 plants to reduce
their emissions to half the level of Phase I. The affected plants are required to install systems that continuously
monitor emissions in order to track progress and assure compliance, and are allowed to trade emission allowances
within their systems and with the other affected sources. Each source must have sufficient allowances to cover its
annual emissions. If not, the source is subject to a $2,000 per ton excess emissions fee and a requirement to offset
the excess emissions in the following year. Bonus allowances can be earned for several reasons including early
reductions in emissions and re-powering with a qualifying clean coal technology.
The CAA also requires the utilities to reduce their nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 2 million tons from the 1980
levels. In September 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new source performance standard for
NOx emissions from new (post-July 1997) electric utility and industrial/commercial/institutional steam generating
units, including those that may become subject to such regulation via modification or reconstruction. The
performance standard for new electric utility steam-generating units is 1.6 pounds per megawatthour of gross energy
output regardless of fuel type, whereas that for modified/reconstructed units is 0.15 pounds per million Btu (MMBtu)
of heat input. The standard for new industrial/commercial institutional steam generating units is 0.2 pounds per
MMBtu of heat input, although for low heat-rate units firing natural gas or distillate oil the present limit of 0.1 pounds
per MMBtu is retained. The switch from input-based to output-based accounting favors increased generating
efficiency and the use of natural gas over distillate oil and especially coal, without the need to prescribe specific
pollution control options.

electric restructuring, power plants may be able to use

significantly more interruptible capacity or be able to use
released capacity to satisfy their supply needs.
Nonutility generation (NUG) of electric power is a
relatively recent and rapidly growing industry. The share of
total electricity generated by NUGs has increased from 6.2
percent in 1989 to 11.5 percent in 1997. 26 Nonutilities are
generally smaller than utilities and were encouraged by the
passage of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act in
1978. Natural gas is the primary fossil fuel used in these
applications, accounting for over 72 percent in 1997.

Transportation Sector
The second largest source of air pollution in the United
States is the transportation sector, and in particular

gasoline- and diesel-powered motor vehicles. As the U.S.

automobile industry first developed, experimentation with
compressed natural gas (CNG) and other alternative fuels
was conducted. But as petroleum products became
increasingly plentiful, accessible, and inexpensive, these
alternatives were largely pushed aside and U.S.
transportation systems became petroleum-based. While few
Americans have driven or owned a natural-gas-powered
vehicle (NGV), people in other nations have been driving
them since World War II when severe petroleum
shortages curtailed gasoline availability. About 1,000,000
NGVs are presently in use worldwide, with Italy alone
having more than 400,000 on the road. In contrast, fewer
than 75,000 NGVs can be found on U.S. roads, not quite
0.04 percent of the more than 200 million U.S. vehicles.
NGVs had a minuscule share of the U.S. vehicle fuel
market in 1997, less than 1 billion cubic feet in a market
equivalent to 30 trillion cubic feet.


Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, DOE/EIA0035(99/02) (Washington, DC, February 1999).
Energy Information Administration
Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Interest in clean-burning alternative fuels has increased in

recent years. After two oil embargoes, several oil price
spikes, and the 1991 Gulf War, both petroleum prices and
security of supply remain major concerns. The
environmental problems associated with tailpipe emissions
have also become a prime motivating factor. The
Environmental Protection Agency estimated that motor
vehicle tailpipe emissions are the source of more than half
of all urban air pollution in the United States. These issues,
along with the failure of many large U.S. metropolitan areas
to meet the 1987 deadline for achievement of the National
Ambient Air Quality Standards (primarily for ozone and
carbon monoxide), have led to increased interest in
alternative transportation fuels. There are a number of
alternatives to gasoline, among which are electricity,
methanol (produced from natural gas and butane), ethanol
(produced from agricultural products), propane, liquefied
natural gas, and compressed natural gas. In the future, these
alternatives will compete with each other and with the
cleaner reformulations of gasoline now being tested and
other more flexible new technologies, such as hybrid
gasoline-electric or diesel-electric vehicles. The relative
success of these alternatives depends on numerous factors:
automobile performance, ability to adapt the fuel
distribution and marketing system, environmental impacts,
safety, the economics of both fuel and vehicle, changes in
technology, and public awareness and acceptance.

vehicles by model year 1998. In 1995 these urban areas,

inclusive of their suburbs, were home to more than
85 million Americans (almost one-third of the U.S.
population). They also have more than 30 percent of all
registered vehicles.
Most observers agree that the primary competition in the
evolving alternative fuels market is among three alternative
carbon-based fuels (methanol, ethanol, and compressed
natural gas (CNG)), electric vehicle technology, and
reformulated gasoline (RFG). While liquefied petroleum
gas (LPG or propane) has essentially the same qualities
as CNG with respect to emissions, range, safety, and
fuel cost, and is widely used in U.S. rural agricultural areas,
its supply probably could not meet broad expansion of
demand. Less than 50 percent of LPG production is derived
from natural gas; the majority of it is a byproduct of the oil
refining process. Therefore, any significantly expanded use
of LPG would require increased oil imports.
Widespread use of CNG as a transportation fuel would
entail substantial new investment to expand the natural gas
delivery infrastructure, largely involving massive addition
of refueling stations at a cost of at least $165,000 each. The
CNG vehicles presently used in the United States, mostly
fleet vehicles, are supported by fewer than 1,300 refueling
stations as compared with more than 200,000 refueling
stations serving gasoline and diesel powered vehicles.
Fewer than 700 of the latter offer CNG to the general
public, and then often by appointment only. EIA and other
forecasters project limited growth in the use of CNG as an
automotive fuel with most projections for 2010
consumption falling in the range of 250 to 440 billion cubic
feet and less than 2.5 million vehicles (Table 3). It is quite
likely that future NGV use will remain restricted to fleet

A number of legislative measures and regulatory initiatives

have sought to ameliorate the automotive emissions
problem. The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 mandate
that in the 22 cities with 1988 populations of greater than
250,000, where ozone and/or carbon monoxide levels are
most serious (nonattainment areas), owners of fleets of
10 or more vehicles must begin purchasing clean-burning

Table 3. Forecasts of Natural Gas Consumption as a Vehicle Fuel

In 2000
Energy information Administration (EIA)
American Gas Association (AGA)
Gas Research Institute (GRI)

In 2010

(billion cubic feet)

Number of Vehicles

(billion cubic feet)

Number of Vehicles





Sources: Energy Information Administration: Annual Energy Outlook 1999, Base Case Scenario (December 1998). AGA: American Gas
Association, 1998 AGA-TERA Base Case (July 1998). GRI: Draft of GRI04 Baseline Projections (November 1998).


Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Air Conditioning Market

The primary opportunity for air pollution reduction in the
space-conditioning market is use of natural gas in lieu of
electricity for cooling. This would include gas-fired air
conditioning for commercial, institutional, and industrial
buildings and gas-fired heat pumps for residential and small
applications, natural gas competes with electricity and with
energy conservation alternatives. Electricity currently
dominates commercial and industrial cooling with a market
share of more than 90 percent, while gas coolings share is
in the 3 to 7 percent range; consumption of gas for space
cooling in 1997 was less than 100 billion cubic feet. This
was not always the case. From the mid-1950s through the
early 1970s, the gas cooling (often called gas absorption)
equipment share of the large-tonnage cooling market
ranged between 20 and 30 percent, with annual load
additions ranging from 2 to over 4 billion cubic feet
supplying 200 to 300 thousand tons of cooling. The load
declined precipitously in the mid-1970s because of energy
supply/price dislocations, regulatory restrictions on gas
industry marketing, and consequent reductions in support
activities by many manufacturers; shipments of largetonnage absorption equipment declined to less than
50 thousand tons per year.
Gas absorption technology and market development
continued in Japan, where gas serves more than half of the
large-tonnage cooling market. The absorption share of
chiller unit shipments in Japan continues to increase; in
1991 it accounted for over 90 percent of new units. Several
Japanese companies have become major worldwide
suppliers of absorption equipment, and gas-cooling
research and development (R&D) expenditures by the
Japanese government and manufacturers continue to grow.
In the United States, R&D conducted by the natural gas
industry, the Gas Research Institute, and gas equipment
manufacturers has led to commercialization of a variety of
new gas engine-drive, absorption, and desiccant
technologies. In addition, equipment and technologies from
the major Japanese companies are being imported or
licensed by U.S. firms. Over the past 2 to 3 years, all of the
major U.S. chiller manufacturers have substantially
increased their activity in gas cooling.
Despite the increased interest in using natural gas for space
cooling, electric cooling equipment is strongly established
(with more than 90 percent of the market) and well
supported by substantial R&D funding and strong
marketing. However, with the Federal government phasing
out the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs or chlorine-based

refrigerants) used in electric cooling systems, natural gas

absorption systems, which operate free of CFCs, and
engine-driven and other natural-gas-based systems, which
typically operate on non-CFC refrigerants, should gain
some additional advantage.27

Environmental Impacts of Gas

Production and Delivery
The extraction and production of natural gas, as well as
other natural gas operations, do have environmental
consequences (Figure 24) and are subject to numerous
Federal and State laws and regulations (see box, p. 63). In
some areas, development is completely prohibited so as to
protect natural habitats and wetlands. At present, oil and
gas drilling is prohibited along the entire U.S. East Coast,
the west coast of Florida, and the U.S. West Coast except
for the area off the coast of southern California. Drilling is
also generally prohibited in national parks, monuments, and
designated wilderness areas.

Natural Gas Exploration and Production

The environmental side-effects of natural gas production
start in what is called the upstream portion of the natural
gas industry, beginning with selection of a geologically
promising area for possible future natural gas production.
An upstream firm will collect all available existing
information on the geology and natural gas potential of the
proposed area and may decide to conduct new geologic and
geophysical studies. It will usually need to acquire
permission to enter the area by obtaining permits for
Federal, State, or local government land or by leasing right
of access on private lands. If the road network is dense
enough, some area studies may only require access along
public right-of-way.
The most common new study is a seismic survey. Onshore
seismic surveys are done using either a small explosive
charge as the acoustic source or special vibrator trucks that
literally shake the ground. In water, the source is either a
small explosive charge or an air or gas gun. The primary
environmental disturbances involved with land operations
are the laying of cable and geophones. Sometimes this
American Gas Association, Gas Industry Online: Gas Technology
Summer 97, New Directions in Natural Gas Cooling, <http://www.aga.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Figure 24. Environmental Impacts of Natural Gas Production, Transmission, and Distribution

Exploration and Development


Wetland and Wildlife Disturbance

Drilling Waste Disposal
Emissions from Drilling Activities
Potential Groundwater and Soil

Natural Gas and

Associated (Oil) Wells

Waste Water Disposal

Potential Groundwater Intrusion
Emissions: Equipment, Separation
Activities, Unplugged Wells, Venting
and Flaring


pr o


Land Reclamation
Leakage from Unplugged Wells

Natural Gas Processing


Contaminant Disposal
Emissions: Separation Activities and
Equipment Leaks
Potential Groundwater Damage

Natural Gas Storage

Site Development
Potential Groundwater and Soil Damage
Brine and WasteDisposal
Compressor Unit Noise and Emissions
Emissions from Injection/Withdrawals
Possible Water Table Intrusion

Dry Gas (Mainline) Transmission

Possible Wetlands, Wildlife, and Archaelogical Site
Valve Leak Emissions
Compressor Noise and Fuel Use Emissions
Possible PCB Contamination
Land Use Concerns

LNG Only
Emissions from Refrigeration and

Gas Distribution
Local Distribution Companies
Losses of Odorant
Losses During Pressure Reduction
Line Loss Emissions
End-Use Consumption
Emissions From Combustion





Vehicle Fuel Electric Utility

LNG = Liquefied natural gas. PCB = Polychlorinated biphenyl.

Source: Energy Information Administration, Office of Oil and Gas.


Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Environmental Laws Affecting Natural Gas Operations



Effect on Natural Gas Operations


National Historic Preservation Act

Major construction projects must avoid damaging or destroying designated National

Historic Landmarks.


National Environmental Policy Act

Requires a detailed environmental review before any major or controversial Federal

action, such as approval of an interstate pipeline or interstate gas storage facility.

1970 Amended
1977 and 1990

Clean Air Act

Regulates air emissions from area, stationary, and mobile sources. Affects operations
of gas plants and is expected to cover glycol dehydrator operations.


Occupational Safety and Health


Governs worker exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical

dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.


Endangered Species Act

Nesting areas of endangered species must not be disturbed by construction or

operations. Drilling mud pits if used may have to be screened to prevent endangered
species from landing in them by mistake. Pipelines and gas storage sites should avoid
endangered species areas.

1974 Amended

Safe Drinking Water Act

Regulates underground injection wells and directs the protection of sole source


Toxic Substance Control Act

Gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to require testing of chemical

substances, both new and old, and to regulate them where necessary. Limits or
prohibits the use of certain substances.

1976 Amended

Resource Conservation and

Recovery Act

Encourages the conservation of natural resources through resource recovery. Defines

hazardous waste as waste which may cause an increase in mortality or poses a
substantial hazard to human health or the environment when improperly disposed. A
waste is: (a) hazardous if it is ignitable at less than 140 degrees F; (b) reactive if it
reacts violently with water, is normally unstable, generates toxic gases when exposed
to water or corrosive materials or is capable of detonation when exposed to heat or
flame; and, (c) corrosive if it has a pH & to 2 or ' to 12.5 and toxic if it meets or
exceeds a certain concentration of pesticides/herbicides, heavy metals or organics.


Clean Water Act

Regulates discharges of pollutants to U.S. waters. Wetlands are protected under this
act. Permits are required, conditioned to force either avoidance or mitigation banking.
Affects construction of pipelines and facilities in wetlands and dredging for drilling barge
movement in coastal wetlands. Provides for delegation of many permitting,
enforcement, and administrative aspects of the law to the States.

1980 Amended

Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and
Liability Act. Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act.

Acts on hazardous waste activities that occurred in the past. Material does not have to
be a waste. Covers all environmental media: air, surface water, ground water and soil.


Federal Oil and Gas Royalty

Management Act

Among other requirements, oil and gas facilities must be built in a way that protects the
environment and conserves Federal resources.


Emergency Planning and

Community Right-to-Know Act

Facilities (gas plants and compressor stations) must report on the hazardous chemicals
they use and store, providing information on a chemicals physical properties and health
effects, and a listing of chemicals that are present in excess of certain amounts.


Oil Pollution Act

Offshore drilling requires posting of significant pollution bonds.


Pollution Prevention Act

Prevents pollution through reduction or recycling of source material. Requires facility

owners or operators to include toxic chemical source reduction and recycling report for
any toxic chemical.


Energy Policy Act

Encourages development of clean-fuel vehicles; encourages energy conservation and

integrated resource planning.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


requires the cutting of roads or trails and, when explosives

are used, the drilling of a small, short hole to encase them.
Explosives are rarely used in water anymore since they can
stun or kill marine life in the immediate vicinity; the now
commonly used gas or air gun source was developed to
ameliorate these effects, as well as increase personnel
Following analysis of the geologic and geophysical data,
the firm may proceed to acquire the right to drill and
produce natural gas from owners of the land and relevant
government permitting authorities. In making leasing and
permitting decisions involving Federal lands, the potential
environmental impacts of future development are often
considered. Such considerations include the projected
numbers and extent of wells and related facilities, such as
pipelines, compressor stations, water disposal facilities, as
well as roads and power lines.

Disposal of Drilling Waste

The drilling of a gas well involves preparing the well site
by constructing a road to it if necessary, clearing the site,
and flooring it with wood or gravel. The soil under the road
and the site may be so compacted by the heavy equipment
used in drilling as to require compaction relief for
subsequent farming. In wetland areas, such as coastal
Louisiana, drilling is often done using a barge-mounted rig
that is floated to the site after a temporary slot is cut
through the levee bordering the nearest navigable stream.
However, the primary environmental concern directly
associated with drilling is not the surface site but the
disposal of drilling waste (spent drilling muds and rock
cuttings, etc.). Early industry practice was to dump spent
drilling fluid and rock cuttings into pits dug alongside the
well and just plow them over after drilling was completed,
or dump them directly into the ocean if offshore. Today,
however, the authority issuing the drilling permits, in
coordination with the EPA, determines whether the operator
may discharge drilling fluids and solids to the environment
or whether they must be shipped to a special disposal
facility. Drilling of a typical gas well (6,000 feet deep)
results in the production of about 150,000 pounds of rock
cuttings and at least 470 barrels of spent mud.28
At onshore and coastal sites, drilling wastes usually cannot
be discharged to surface waters and are primarily disposed
of by operators on their lease sites. If the drilling fluids are
saltwater- or oil-based, they can cause damage to soils and

groundwater and on-site disposal is often not permitted, so

operators must dispose of such wastes at an off-site
disposal facility. The disposal methods used by commercial
disposal companies include underground injection, burial
in pits or landfills, land spreading, evaporation,
incineration, and reuse/recycling. In areas with subsurface
salt formations, such as Texas, Louisiana, and New
Mexico, disposal in man-made salt caverns is an emerging,
cost-competitive option. Such disposal poses very low risks
to plant and animal life because the formations where the
caverns are constructed are very stable and are located
beneath any subsurface fresh water supplies. Water-based
drilling wastes have been shown to have minimal impacts
on aquatic life, so offshore operators are allowed to
discharge them into the sea. They are prohibited from so
discharging oil-based drilling wastes, and these are
generally hauled to shore for disposal.
In recent years, new drilling technologies such as slimhole
drilling, horizontal drilling, multilateral drilling, coiled
tubing drilling, and improved drill bits, have helped to
reduce the generated quantity of drilling wastes. Another
advanced drilling technology that provides pollutionprevention benefits is the use of synthetic drilling fluids
which combine the superior drilling performance of oilbased fluids with the more favorable environmental impacts
of water-based drilling fluids. Their use results in a much
cleaner well bore and less sidewall collapse, such that the
cuttings volume is reduced.

Exploration, development, and production activities emit
small volumes of air pollutants, mostly from the engines
used to power drilling rigs and various support and
construction vehicles. An indication of the level of air
emissions from these operations is available from wells in
the Federal Offshore off California (Table 4). As the
number of wells increases, such as in the Gulf of Mexico,
so do the emissions for exploratory drilling and
development drilling, while emissions from supporting
activities rise less directly. Offshore development entails
some activities not found elsewhere (i.e., platform
construction and marine support vessels), but the
environmental effects from onshore activities, which
include drilling pad and access road construction,
especially for development drilling, are many times larger
because of the much higher level of activity.

Assumes a 20-inch diameter hole to 200 feet followed by an 8-inch
(average) hole diameter for the next 5,800 feet, plus a mud pit volume of
35 barrels.


Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Table 4. Typical Annual Air Pollutant Emissions from Exploration, Development, and Production Activities
Offshore California
Type of Air Pollutant Emission
(short tons per year)


Volatile Organic
Nitrogen Oxides

Exploratory Drilling Assumes four 10,000-foot

wells drilled at 90 days per
well; includes emissions from
support vessels on site and in

Sulfur Dioxide


Total Suspended






Platform Installation Includes emissions from

support vessels.






Pipeline Installation Includes emissions from

support vessels.






Development Drilling Assumes eight 10,000-foot

wells drilled per year; includes
emissions from support






Offshore Platform Assumes annual production of

4.38 million barrels of oil and
5,840 million cubic feet of
natural gas.
















Support Vessels Assumes one crew boat trip

and one supply boat every 2
days; includes emissions in
transit for 50-mile round trip.
Onshore Gas Processing Assumes processing of 21,900
million cubic feet of natural gas

Notes: The number of exploratory and development wells drilled annually in the Gulf of Mexico Offshore and onshore in the United States is much
larger than in the California Offshore. Total U.S. exploratory wells numbered 3,024 in 1997 while developmental wells numbered 23,453 (Energy
Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review, Table 5.2). Offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico include emissions from helicopter crew
support flights as well as crew and supply boats. Onshore drilling includes emissions during construction of drilling pads and access roads.
Sources: Nitrogen Oxides: Radian, Assessment of Nox Control Measures for Diesel Engines on Offshore Exploratory Vessels and Rigs - Final
Report presented to Joint Industries Board (1982). Other Emissions: Form and Substance, Inc. for Minerals Management Service, A Handbook
for Estimating the Potential Air Quality Impacts Associated with Oil and Gas Development Off California (October 1983).

Disposal of Produced Water

Coproduction of a variable amount of water with the gas is
unavoidable at most locations. Because the water is usually
salty, its raw disposal or unintentional spillage on land
normally interferes with plant growth. Since the produced
water represents the largest volume waste stream generated
by exploration and production activities, its disposal is a

significant problem for the industry. The disposal process

varies depending on whether the well is onshore or
offshore, the local requirements, and the composition of the
produced fluids. Most onshore-produced water is disposed
of by pumping it back into the subsurface through on-site
injection wells. In some parts of the United States, injection
is not practical or economically viable and the produced
water is therefore piped or trucked to an off-site treatment

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


facility. The disposal methods used by commercial disposal

companies include injection, evaporation, and treatment
followed by surface discharge. For example, the water
produced from onshore coal bed methane wells in Alabama
is disposed of by land application or by discharge into
streams after treatment; because of the elevated levels of
total dissolved solids, the water is tested by biomonitoring
for acute toxicity.29
Offshore, during a typical year of operations in the Gulf of
Mexico, it is estimated that approximately 685,000 barrels
of produced water are discharged, about half of which is
piped to onshore locations where it is treated and
subsequently discharged to onshore waters.30 Studies have
found few impacts of produced water disposal in the deeper
waters of the Gulf of Mexico or off Southern California. In
very shallow coastal areas (2 to 3 meters deep), more
extensive impacts from long-term discharges are
suggested.31 One of the original environmental concerns
regarding oil and gas drilling and production involves
undesirable movement of fluids along the well bore from
deeper, often salty, formations to formations near the
surface that contain fresh water. Operators are generally
required to cement casing from the wellhead through all
rock layers containing fresh water. While oil will obviously
contaminate fresh groundwater, entry of natural gas into
fresh water zones used for human or agricultural supply
will not, but it can create an explosion or suffocation risk.
Downhole separators are a new technology that promises to
reduce the environmental risk from produced water as well
as reduce industrys cost of handling it. These devices
separate oil and gas from produced water within the well
bore, such that most of the produced water can be safely
injected into a subsurface formation without ever being
brought to the surface.

K.R. Drotter, D.R. Mount, and S.J. Patti, Biomonitoring of Coalbed
Methane Produced Water from the Cedar Cove Degasification Field,
Alabama, in Proceedings of the 1989 Coalbed Methane Symposium, The
University of Alabama (April 17-20, 1989), p. 363.
U.S. Department of Interior, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, Gianessi and Arnold, The Discharge of Water Pollutants
from Oil and Gas Explorations and Production Activities in the GOM
Region (April 1982), as cited in Oil and Gas Program: Cumulative Effects,
U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Outer
Continental Shelf Report, MMS 88-0005 (1988), p. V-19.
J.G. Mackin, A Study of the Effect of Oilfield Brine Effluents on
Benthic Communities in Texas Estuaries (College Station, TX, Texas A&M
Research Foundation, 1971), Proj. 735, p. 72, cited by Minerals Management
Service in Oil and Gas Program: Cumulative Effects, Outer Continental
Shelf Report (1988).


Condensate Production Hazards

There are an estimated 13,000 condensate tank batteries
which separate, upgrade, store, and transfer condensate
streams from natural gas produced in the United States and
its offshore areas.32 The separation is done using glycol
dehydration units, which the EPA has identified as a
potential source of hazardous air pollutants (as well as
tanks and vessels storing volatile oils, condensate, and
similar hydrocarbon liquids). The EPA has published
a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking to reduce these
emissions by 57 percent for oil and natural gas production
facilities and by 36 percent from glycol dehydration units
in natural gas transmission and storage facilities. The final
rule is not expected until May 1999.

Venting, Flaring, and Fugitive Emissions

It is sometimes necessary either to vent produced gas into
the atmosphere or to flare (burn) it. Worldwide, most
venting and flaring occurs when the cost of transporting
and marketing gas co-produced from crude oil reservoirs
exceeds the netback price received for the gas. This practice
is by no means as common in the United States as it was a
few decades ago when oil was the primary valuable product
and there was no market for much of the co-produced
natural gas until the interstate pipeline system was
developed after World War II. The minor venting and
flaring that does occur now is regulated by the States and
may happen at several locations: the well gas separator, the
lease tank battery gas separator, or a downstream natural
gas plant.
The total amount of methane vented in 1996, 1.14 million
metric tons, was the second largest component of methane
emissions from natural gas operations (Table 5).
Throughout the entire process of producing, refining, and
distributing natural gas there are losses or fugitive
emissions. Production operations account for about
30 percent of the fugitive emissions, while transmission,
storage, and distribution account for about 53 percent. All
systems of pipes that transmit any fluid are subject to leaks.
In the case of natural gas, any leak will escape to the
atmosphere. The total methane emissions from all natural
gas operations in 1996 was 6.66 million metric tons, or
22 percent of all U.S. anthropogenic methane emissions.
When weighted by the global warming potential of
Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Register Notice, Part II,
40 CFR Part 63, National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants:
Oil and Natural Gas Production and Natural Gas Transmission and Storage;
Proposed Rule (February 6, 1998), p. 6292.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

Table 5. U.S. Methane Emissions by Source, 1989-1996

(Million Metric Tons of Methane)
Natural Gas Operations
Natural Gas Wellhead Production
Gathering Pipelines
Gas-Processing Plants
Heaters, Separators, etc.
Total Production
Gas Venting
Gas Transmission and Distribution
Total Natural Gas Operations
Natural Gas Stationary End-Use Combustion
Electric Utility
Total Natural Gas Combustion

























Total from Natural Gas




Percent of U.S. Methane Emissions









Other Energy Sources

Coal Mining
Oil Well Production
Oil Refining and Transportation
Non-Natural-Gas Stationary Combustion
Mobile Sources
Total Other Energy














Non-Energy Sources
Waste Management
Agricultural Sources
Other Industrial Processes
Total Non-Energy









Total U.S. Methane Emissions









*Less than 500 metric tons of methane.

Notes: Data for 1997 from Energy Information Administration (EIA), Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1997 (October 1998)
were not used because the report groups gas operations in a less detailed format. The report states that U.S. methane emissions totaled 29.11 million
metric tons in 1997, with natural gas systems accounting for 6.03 million metric tons, or 21 percent. Totals may not equal sum of components because
of independent rounding.
Source: EIA, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 1996 (October 1997).

methane, this amounts to 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse

gas emissions in 1996.

Removal of Carbon Dioxide

Almost 500 billion cubic feet of the 24.2 trillion cubic feet
of gross withdrawals of natural gas in the United States in
1997 was in fact carbon dioxide (Table 6). The carbon
dioxide content of natural gas has been increasing over
recent years. This is mostly attributable to the growth of
production in fields with a relatively high carbon dioxide
component, such as in the Midwest, the Green River Basin

in Wyoming, and the San Juan Basin and Piceance Basin

coal bed gas fields, as a result of increased natural gas
demand in recent years. Since 1990, the volume of carbon
dioxide coproduced with natural gas has risen by
23.4 percent.
More carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced with nonassociated
natural gas than with associated-dissolved natural gas
primarily because about 85 percent of U.S. gas production
is from nonassociated gas wells. Also, the chemical
processes involved in the formation of natural gas lead to
a higher CO2 content in nonassociated gas. In 1997, the

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


Table 6. U.S. Carbon Dioxide Inherent in Domestic Natural Gas Production, 1990-1997
(Billion Cubic Feet, Unless Otherwise Noted)
Carbon Dioxide









With Nonassociated Gas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
With Associated-Dissolved Gas . . . . . . . . . . . . .









Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .









Production Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Pipeline Consumption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
End-Use Consumption . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

























Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Total (Million Metric Tons of Carbon) . . . . . . . .

P = Preliminary data.
Includes small amount carbon dioxide reinjected in Texas and Wyoming that is ultimately retained in the reservoir.
Energy Information Administration, Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States, 1997 (October 1998), p. 119.
Note: Totals may not equal sum of components because of independent rounding.
Source: Energy Information Administration, Office of Oil and Gas estimates, unless otherwise noted.

CO2 component of nonassociated gas produced was

2.5 percent as compared with 0.2 percent for associateddissolved natural gas.
The CO2 content of produced natural gas has numerous
possible dispositions. For example, it can be left in the
natural gas that is returned to reservoirs to repressurize
them, thereby increasing the oil recovery factor, or it can be
left in the natural gas used for fuel in well, field, and lease
operations, or vented, etc. When processing of the raw
natural gas stream is economically warranted, the CO2 is
typically extracted by amine scrubbing and then vented to
the atmosphere. The remaining carbon dioxide left in the
finished natural gas stream becomes a fugitive emission
somewhere during transmission, distribution or
Of the 500 billion cubic feet of carbon dioxide produced
along with U.S. natural gas (Table 1), most is emitted to the
atmosphere. Almost 69 percent of carbon dioxide emissions
occur during gas production, with the remainder in
transmission, distribution, and consumption. The largest
single point of emissions is at natural gas plants, where at
least 200 billion cubic feet is emitted.33

Ancillary Production Activities

Gas exploration and production also result in a number of
other, relatively minor environmental consequences. For
example, gas production and processing operations
Energy Information Administration, Office of Oil and Gas analysis
(September 1998).


sometimes accumulate naturally occurring radioactive

materials (NORM). Over a 20-year period, the
Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the
combined production of natural gas and crude oil in the
United States resulted in accumulation of 13 million metric
tons of NORM, as opposed to 1.7 billion tons in coal ash
and more than 21 billion metric tons associated with metal,
uranium, and phosphate mining and processing.34 NORM
can accumulate as scale or sludge in natural gas well
casing, production tubing, surface equipment, gas gathering
pipelines, and by-product waste streams.35 NORM
concentrations vary from background levels to levels
exceeding those of some uranium mill tailings.36
Traditionally, these materials have been regulated by the
Proper precautions must be taken during disposal of
contaminated casing and pipes to ensure that they are not
converted into such things as furniture or playground

Environmental Protection Agency, Disposal of Naturally Occurring
and Accelerator-Produced Radioactive Materials, EPA 402-K-94-001
(August 1994), < radwaste/narm.htm>.
The sources of most of the radioactivity are isotopes of uranium-238
and thorium-232 which are naturally present in the subsurface formations
from which natural gas is produced. The primary radionuclides of concern are
radium-226 in the uranium-238 decay series and radium-228 in the thorium232 decay series. Other radionuclides of concern include those resulting from
the decay of radon-226 and radon-228, such as radon-222. Pipe scale and
sludge accumulations are dominated by radium-226 and radium-228, while
deposits on the interior surfaces of gas plant equipment are predominantly
lead-210 and polonium-210.
Stephen A. Marinello and Mel B. Hebert, Minimizing NORM
Generation Most Cost-Effective Approach, The American Oil & Gas
Reporter (December 1995), p. 101.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

equipment. The production waste streams most likely to be

contaminated by elevated radium concentrations include
produced water, scale, and sludge. Spillage or intentional
release of these waste streams to the ground can result in
NORM-contaminated soils that must also be disposed of.
Most produced water containing NORM is disposed of onsite through injection wells for onshore locations and is
discharged into the sea at offshore locations. Other types of
NORM waste are presently disposed of at gas and oil
production sites and at off-site commercial disposal
facilities, mostly by underground injection. Smaller
quantities of NORM are disposed of through burial in
landfills, encapsulation inside the casing of plugged and
abandoned wells, or land spreading.
The physical appearance of a drilling rig or a wellhead is
offensive to some people. In the oil-productive urban
portions of onshore California, drilling rigs and wellheads
are routinely hidden inside mock buildings in part for this
reason and in part to muffle the noise of operations.
Unfortunately an offshore platform cannot be hidden in the
same way. Aside from this viewshed issue, an offshore
rig precludes commercial fishing operations on an average
of 500 acres because of it and its anchors presence.37
Offshore noise and light pollution are also a concern
because noise can carry for long distances over and
underwater and offshore rigs and platforms operate roundthe-clock and are very well-lit at night.
When drilling is conducted in remote areas on land, the
roads and airfields constructed by the well operators can
later provide easier public access for other purposes such as
hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities unless special
provisions are made to prevent it. Access is generally a
bigger problem relative to oil wells since the transportation
cost per unit of value for natural gas is higher than that for
crude oil, which makes natural gas development in remote
areas less likely.

Natural Gas Processing

The processing of natural gas poses low environmental risk,
primarily because natural gas has a simple and
comparatively pure composition. There are 697 natural gas
processing facilities in the United States.38 Their purpose is

U.S. Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service, Oil
and Gas Program: Cumulative Effects, Outer Continental Shelf Report,
MMS 88-0005 (1988).
Energy Information Administration, U.S. Crude Oil, Natural Gas, and
Natural Gas Liquids Reserves, 1997 Annual Report, DOE/EIA-0216(97)
(Washington, DC, December 1998).

to remove the heavier hydrocarbons such as ethane,

propane, pentanes, and hexanes, as well as contaminants
such as carbon dioxide and water, in order to bring the
natural gas stream into conformity with pipeline Btu
content and other specifications. Typical processes
performed by a gas plant are separation of the heavier-thanmethane hydrocarbons as liquefied petroleum gases,
stabilization of condensate by removal of lighter
hydrocarbons from the condensate stream, gas sweetening,
and consequent sulfur production and dehydration
sufficient to avoid formation of methane hydrates in the
downstream pipeline.39 The EPA-identified hazardous air
pollutant (HAP) emission points at natural gas processing
plants are the glycol dehydration unit reboiler vent, storage
tanks,40 and equipment leaks from components handling
hydrocarbon streams that contain HAP constituents. Other
potential HAP emission points are the tail gas streams from
amine-treating processes and sulfur recovery units.
Methods vary for removing natural gas contaminants, such
as hydrogen sulfide gas, carbon dioxide gas, nitrogen, and
water. Commonly the hydrogen sulfide is converted to solid
sulfur for sale. Likewise the carbons and nitrogen are
separated for sale to the extent economically possible but
otherwise the gases are vented, while the water is treated
before release. Compressor operation at gas plants has a
similar impact to that of compressors installed at other

Pipeline Construction and Expansion

Gas gathering pipeline systems move natural gas from the
well to a gas plant or transmission pipeline. The diameter of
the gathering pipe depends on the number and
deliverability of the wells served. Construction involves
clearing and grading right-of-way (ROW), trenching, pipe
welding and coating, pipe burial, and restoration of the
disturbed surface (although gathering pipelines are
sometimes laid on the ground surface). Operation of the
system involves supporting compressor stations and, in the
case of water-producing wells, water collection, pumping,
pipelining, and disposal according to State or local
regulations. In near-offshore areas such as the Mississippi
River Delta, canals have to be dredged to permit movement
of barge-mounted oil and gas drilling rigs and the laying of
oil and gas gathering pipelines.

H.D. Beggs, Gas Production Operations (Tulsa, OK: OGCI

Publications, November 1995), pp. 219-222.
Particularly those that handle volatile oil and condensates, which may
be significant contributors to overall hazardous air pollutant emissions
because of flash emissions.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends


The environmental impacts of transmission pipeline

construction and operation are considered by the Federal
Energy Regulatory Commission prior to approval of
construction. About 300,000 miles of high-pressure
transmission pipelines are in place in the United States and
its offshore areas. The construction ROW on land is
commonly 75 to 100 feet wide along the length of the
pipeline; this is the area disturbed by clearing and grading,
trenching, soil storage, pipe storage, vehicle movement,
pipe burial, trench in-filling, and surface restoration, which
is between 9.1 and 12.1 acres per mile of pipe. In
agricultural areas, it may take 1 to 3 years for cropland to
return to its former productivity after pipeline installation.
The permanent ROW on land is typically 50 to 75 feet wide
times the length of the pipeline. This is the area needed by
the operator for routine inspection and maintenance
operations, occupying from 6.1 acres to 9.1 acres per mile
of pipe.41 For every mile of offshore pipeline constructed on
non-rocky sea floors, about 6 acres of sea bottom are
disturbed and 2,300 to 6,000 cubic yards of sediment

nitrogen oxides (NOx) and other gases during compressor

operations. A transmission compressor station powered by
natural gas has been estimated to produce 1.50 grams of
NOx per baseplate horsepower per hour (g/bhp-hr),
2.30 g/bhp-hr of carbon monoxide, and 1.50 g/bhp-hr of
volatile organic compounds.44 Methane leakage also occurs
(Table 5). Significant reductions in methane leakage have
occurred by converting wet (oil) shaft seals to dry (highpressure gas) shaft seals, which reduces the leakage rate
range from 40 to 200 standard cubic feet (scf) per minute to
at most 6 scf per minute.45
Some transmission pipelines used polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs) as lubricants in their compressors prior to
1976 when their manufacture was banned by the Toxic
Substance Control Act. The PCBs are a group of aromatic
organic compounds that have inherent thermal and
chemical stability but are quite toxic. Unfortunately, they
diffused out of the compressors into the pipelines of those
systems that utilized them; their cleanup has been a
significant problem. Research is continuing into methods
for removal of the PCBs.

Pipeline Operations
Underground Storage Operations
Valves are installed along the pipeline to allow isolation of
leaking or failed segments of the line or complete shutdown
should that become necessary. The pipe is generally
brought to the surface so that the valve can be easily
reached and observed; siting is commonly in areas
accessible by road but away from residential areas. The
EPA has identified leaking valves as a potential hazardous
air pollutant emission point. It has also identified pipeline
pigging operations and the storage of resulting wastes as
potential hazardous air pollutant emission points. Pigging
operations are performed to inspect and clean the interior of
pipelines and entail safe disposal of the removed solid and
liquid contaminants.
Compressor stations (about 1,900 of them in the United
States)43 are also located along the route of the pipeline to
ensure efficient movement of the gas. Because the location
of a compressor station need not be precise, it can usually
be sited so as to reduce its impact on the human or natural
environment. However, there are unavoidable emissions of
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pony Express Pipeline Project
Environmental Assessment, Docket No. CP96-477-000 (April 1997), p. 2-20.
Minerals Management Service, Oil and Gas Program: Cumulative
Effects, MMS 88-0005 (1988), pp. V-23 and V-20.
Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Register Notice, Part II,
40 CFR Part 63, National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants:
Oil and Natural Gas Production and Natural Gas Transmission and Storage;
Proposed Rule (February 6, 1998), p. 6292.


The construction and operations associated with

underground natural gas storage also have environmental
impacts. There are about 410 underground gas storage
facilities in the United States, which have been variously
developed in former oil or natural gas producing reservoirs,
in aquifers, 46 and in man-made cavities in salt deposits.
Storage well drilling has a similar impact to that of drilling
production wells with the exception that the geology is
often better known and the drilling is therefore less risky.
In developing storage facilities at an aquifer or abandoned
oil or gas reservoir, horizontal wells have recently been
utilized to increase the input/output capacity and minimize
total drilling. If a salt deposit is being developed for
storage, the salt water disposal can be into adjacent
underground reservoirs or into the surface water

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Pony Express Pipeline Project
Environmental Assessment, Docket No. CP96-477-000, p. 3-33.
Environmental Protection Agency, Lessons Learned from Natural Gas
STAR Partners, Replacing Wet Seals with Dry Seals in Centrifugal
Compressors, Executive Summary, < sealsprn.
A body of rock that is sufficiently permeable to conduct ground water
and to yield economically significant quantities of water to wells and springs,
although they do not do the latter in the vicinity of a storage site. Robert L.
Bates and Julia A. Jackson, American Geological Institute, Dictionary of
Geological Terms, 3rd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1983), p. 26.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends

environment under permitted conditions. The laying of

storage field pipelines has a similar effect as that of gas
gathering pipelines, but usually occurs in a much smaller
area and away from populated areas and sensitive habitats.
The establishment of underground storage facilities at
depleted production field sites sometimes entails little in the
way of additional disturbance.

ignitable by any flame, spark, or electrostatic discharge that

comes in contact with it. Nevertheless, the local distribution
of coal or fuel oil for commercial or residential use is
significantly less energy efficient, and in the case of oil
potentially more environmentally hazardous than is that of
natural gas.

The environmental impacts associated with storage

compressor facilities are similar to those for gathering and
mainline compressor installations. Dehydration units
located in storage fields are noted by EPA as a potential
source of hazardous air pollutants. It is common practice to
blow down production wells (often annually) when a
storage reservoir is developed in an aquifer or an
abandoned oil or gas reservoir. This practice clears loose
particles from the interstices of the storage reservoir rock
adjacent to the well bore, thereby restoring the rocks
permeability and the maximum flow rate. However, this
practice produces a noise effect and the need to flare the
rapidly delivered gas.


Natural Gas Distribution

The local natural gas distribution company (LDC) takes gas
from the intra- or interstate pipeline company serving its
area. Facilities operated by the LDC include pressure
reduction facilities, odorant storage and insertion facilities,
and the small-diameter local distribution pipeline network
with its attendant valves and meters. Line losses are more
apparent in the LDCs pipelines than elsewhere, as the
odorant has been added and leaks can be detected by the
human nose. Line losses are also more dangerous in
distribution networks since built-up areas have many
enclosed spaces, and their infusion with leaked gas can
produce an explosive mixture of natural gas and air

According to EIAs Annual Energy Outlook 1999 reference

case, natural gas consumption for electricity generation
nearly triples, from 3.3 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 1997 to
9.2 Tcf, by 2020. Gas-fired generation is the economical
choice for construction of new power generation units
through 2010, when capital, operating, and fuel costs are
considered.47 Natural gas consumption and emissions are
projected to increase more rapidly than other fossil fuels, at
average annual rates of 1.7 percent through 2020.48
However, this represents reductions in total carbon
emissions derived from the environmental advantages of
natural gas.
Concern about global warming and further deterioration of
the environment caused by escalating industrial expansion
and other development is being addressed by worldwide
initiatives (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol) that seek a decrease in
emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
Natural gas is expected to play a key role in strategies to
lower carbon emissions, because it allows fuel users to
consume the same Btu level while less carbon is emitted. If
carbon-reduction measures are implemented, EIA projects
in its Kyoto Protocol analysis that, by 2010, natural gas
demand would increase by 2 to 12 percent over otherwise
expected levels.49 Emissions from natural gas consumption
would also rise, but the natural gas share of total emissions
would increase only slightly.

Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 1999,
DOE/EIA-0383(99) (Washington, DC, December 1998), p. 82.
Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 1999, p.
Energy Information Administration, Impacts of the Kyoto Protocol on
U.S. Energy Markets and Economic Activity, SR/OIAF/98-03 (Washington,
DC, October 1998), pp. xix and 95.

Energy Information Administration

Natural Gas 1998: Issues and Trends